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The Fluid Systems Engineering and Management Blog

by Swagelok Northern California

Living Classroom Gives Kids Knowledge to Grow On

by Jeff Hopkins, on 1/30/14 8:00 AM

Garden-based learning provides hands-on lessons that stimulate curiosity

Living Classroom
Get a brief brochure with more details about Living Classroom here »

Swagelok Northern California supports a community nonprofit that, at first glance, might seem about as different from valves and fittings as you can get. It's the Living Classroom, a program that uses gardening as a context for helping kids learn. School gardens and outdoor areas become hands-on educational laboratories that complement the existing curriculum and provide the opportunity for students to apply classroom concepts in the natural world. That might take the form of constructing a worm farm, harvesting and threshing winter wheat, exploring the surface area of leaves, or planting a Native American "Three Sisters" garden.

The Living Classroom is available to students in kindergarten through eighth grade at nine locations in the Los Altos School District, and six locations in the Mountain View-Whisman School District. The schools get startup and ongoing support services, including lesson plans and kits, garden design and development, docent and staff training, fundraising guidance, and a technology platform for scheduling and communications.

Swagelok Northern California supports the Living Classroom for many reasons. There is very good research that backs this type of experiential learning and the way it improves overall attitudes towards learning. In addition, this program supports needed learning in math, science, writing, and social studies. As importantly, we can actually visit and meet the children and schools our efforts are helping.

At the kindergarten level, the children are introduced to the idea of surface area, measuring the areas of leaves, beans and other nonstandard units. They get to identify plant parts as they snack on them. By the 8th grade level, students are learning the major components of soil and its chemical composition.

To see kids participating in the Living Classroom, take a look at some photos.

Swagelok Northern California is proud of its contribution, but the Living Classroom still needs volunteer docents. It doesn't take any teaching experience, any gardening experience, or any science background. All it takes is a minimum of participating in three lessons a month, a total of about five hours. Beginner docents observe and assist experienced docents, and can attend training sessions to learn the curriculum and lesson delivery techniques.  Here is a first person account of the docent experience, “As a volunteer docent, I look forward to teaching Living Classroom lessons. The children are always excited to see us and enjoy the various educational experiences we bring to them. When we visit a classroom,the students know that they are going to enjoy learning with us!”

If that sounds like a program you can get behind, browse the rest of the website where the photos reside. Then contact Vicki Moore at or 650-224-8274.


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